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January 21, 2014
Heading to Bank Street, Polakow-Suransky is first to exit Fariña's ed department
The top Bloomberg-era deputy is leaving the Department of Education, marking the first visible leadership shift under Carmen Fariña and the potential start of a pre-K partnership.
January 21, 2014
Fariña to staff: “I am thrilled for Shael” and will work with him
Chancellor Carmen Fariña is looking forward to continuing to work with Shael Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education’s top deputy under the Bloomberg administration, she…
December 6, 2013
New school to honor Mandela already easing political tensions
Just one day after Nelson Mandela died at his home in South Africa, city officials announced that a new high school will be named in his honor—and its creation appears to have won over some prominent critics of co-locating schools. The new Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will open inside of Boys and Girls High School, the Bedford-Stuyvesant school that Mandela visited in 1990 when he was celebrated by Mayor David Dinkins and the rest of New York City. Walcott called the school "a perfect way to give testament to the man who is just admired by so many and transformed lives of so many people, and generations of people. And touched personally the people of Brooklyn as well as the people of New York City." The school's social justice theme and connection to Mandela's visit to the neighborhood have also smoothed tensions that have been simmering for years at Boys and Girls over the possibility of the city adding another school to the building, which already contains the small Research and Service High School.
November 20, 2013
Architects of school grades concede errors as overhaul looms
Warren Simmons, of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, speaks during a panel discussion about New York City's accountability system. Two architects of New York City's controversial school progress reports acknowledged on Tuesday that the accountability system they developed needs to change. Law school professor James Liebman, who devised the A-F grading system "from scratch" in 2007, said the school grades were initially useful as a "powerful motivator of educators to take responsibility" for student learning in their schools. But after six years of relying on a narrow set of data — primarily state test scores and graduation rates — to hold schools accountable, Liebman said now is a good moment for "toning down on performance management." Liebman's suggestions, which hewed closely to recommendations offered Tuesday by the Department of Education's chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, come as an overhaul looms for the controversial grading system. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he would do away with the school grades, although he hasn't yet said whether he would maintain the underlying data that contributes to them. Liebman and Polakow-Suransky appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, a think tank run by former state education chief David Steiner, at which Polakow-Suransky released a report called "What's Next for School Accountability in New York City?" The report outlined six areas for de Blasio to consider when he takes over in January.
November 19, 2013
Previewing Polakaw-Suransky on accountability after Bloomberg
In just a little while, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the number-two official in the city Department of Education, will explain his thoughts about the city’s school…
November 14, 2013
On early ed tests issue, agreement on everything but a solution
First grade teacher John O'Hickey, of Brooklyn School of Inquiry. Part of O'Hickey's evaluation will be based on state test scores from students in higher grades in the school. When it comes to getting rid of standardized testing in early grades, the city and the teachers union are on the same page — both want them eliminated from their teacher evaluation plans. But the two sides, whose toxic relationship seems to have reached new highs in Mayor Bloomberg's final year in office, are taking different approaches toward achieving the same end goal. The United Federation of Teachers ratcheted up its latest critique of teacher evaluations today by joining a statewide coalition that wants to ban standardized tests in any class below third grade. UFT President Michael Mulgrew first raised the issue two weeks ago, arguing that they are developmentally inappropriate because some students can barely hold a pencil, let alone fill in bubble sheets. "To be using it at these young ages is just ridiculous," Mulgrew said today on a conference call with reporters. In New York City, a small fraction of the city's roughly 800 elementary schools is supposed to administer the bubble tests this year because of how the city's evaluation plan was written, though parents at some schools are rebelling against the mandate. Officials at the Department of Education agree with Mulgrew, but they are hoping a quieter discussion with state education Commissioner John King will lead to a solution. There is optimism that the strategy is working. "The commissioner has indicated a willingness to look at this issue and consider some flexibility for the current school year," Polakow-Suransky said.
November 13, 2013
New school grades mark possible end of an era in accountability
A school accountability era in New York City is going out not with a bang but with a technical briefing in the basement of the Department of Education's headquarters. That's where Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky will be unveiling this year's progress reports, the letter grades that the Bloomberg administration awarded annually to schools since 2007, to reporters. The setup is similar to what has happened in the recent past but a far cry from the early years of the progress reports, when Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein used to tout the scores — and their improvement from the previous year — with great fanfare. The letter grades are not the biggest school story today for Bloomberg and his current chancellor, Dennis Walcott. They're appearing together early this afternoon at a high school in Hell's Kitchen to announce a donation from AT&T to fund a new software engineering curriculum. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he wants to overhaul how schools are assessed, so today's grades could well be the last that schools receive, at least under the current system. What they show will become a lasting data point in Bloomberg's education legacy, along with the city's higher graduation rate and this year's dramatic test score decline because of the state's new standards.
November 12, 2013
Ex-DOE official with de Blasio ties offers a NYC schools vision
She says she's not interested in the job herself, but Carmen Farina has a clear vision for how Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio's chancellor should lead the city's schools. That vision includes some big ideas — including converting empty classrooms into dormitories for homeless students to forcing real estate developers to build space for early education — that the retired educator says have been on her mind recently. On Monday, Farina shared her thoughts publicly on an education panel about the transition underway at City Hall between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations. Farina said her philosophy around education policymaking represents an approach that's been absent at the Department of Education in recent years. "I want to see us have a system where people do things because they have a sense of joy about it, not because they have a sense of fear," Farina said during the panel, which was part of a daylong conference about the transition at the CUNY Graduate Center.
October 29, 2013
New York City looks for a way out of its "bubble tests" problem
UFT President Michael Mulgrew testifies at a state senate hearing in New York City. At right, Senator John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, listens. The city wants to get rid of unpopular "bubble sheet" tests that some of its youngest students are required to take this year, a top Department of Education official said on Tuesday. "There are better ways to do assessments of early childhood and I think that we can find a better way to do it," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told lawmakers in testimony at state Senate hearing. The hearing was planned by Senator John Flanagan in large part as an opportunity for people to air their frustration with the state's new standards and the tests associated with them. The math tests in question, called Discovery Education Assessment, are being given to small portion of students in kindergarten through second grades as part of their teachers' evaluations, a portion of which must measure student learning over the course of a school year. Discovery's tests include elements, like No. 2 pencils and standardized bubble answers, that teachers and experts have panned as developmentally inappropriate. Polakow-Suransky echoed that criticism on Tuesday and vowed to offer an alternative student learning measure soon to take effect for this school year. It represents a somewhat sudden reversal for the city, which bought the Discovery tests from a vendor in August for this school year after declining to use its own elementary math assessments, an option that Commissioner John King preferred when he crafted DOE's new teacher evaluation rules. Polakow-Suransky's comments come as push back against testing policies from parents and teachers have escalated statewide in recent weeks, prompting the State Education Department to make a series of its own changes to curtail the role of testing requirements.
October 17, 2013
For a deal on teacher conferences, usual adversaries team up
The Coalition for Educational Justice announced the $5 million allocation for additional test score talks in September. Parent advocates stood with a top city education official on the steps of City Hall in late September to make an announcement: The city was setting aside $5 million for extra parent-teacher conferences for students with low state test scores. But advocates weren't sure that was the event they were going to have. Until two days before the press conference, members of the Coalition for Educational Justice thought they might just be calling on the city to set aside the funds. Though the group had met with Department of Education officials twice, they had been told that the costs seemed too high and the funding source unclear. Three days after their last meeting, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky emailed the group. You made a persuasive argument, he wrote, promising to continue the search for funds. The city did find $5 million to finance the conferences, which the Coalition announced at City Hall. Since then, the teachers union and the principals union have joined the city and Coalition members to hammer out the logistics — a level of collaboration that many of involved said they hadn't seen in years on an optional initiative. "It's been a little surreal," said Natasha Capers, a parent leader with CEJ. "At one point I was sitting at the table, and thought, would it be weird if I just took a picture of everyone doing this?"
October 15, 2013
When crowds go wild: 8 loud moments in education activism
A raucous Poughkeepsie parent crowd prompted Commissioner John King last week to cancel plans for future meetings with parents. But the disruption, in the video above, is just the latest instance of angry protesters derailing public events in recent years. In New York City, other meetings have long been the backdrop for battles over school closures, charter schools, overcrowding, teacher evaluations and testings have wages. Here are highlights caught on tape from event in recent years: "Sex and the City" star gets jeered, then cheered Nov. 12, 2008: Even the rich and famous don't get a free pass to air grievances about the city's public school system. "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon and noted education advocate spoke up at a Upper West Side meeting in opposition to an overcrowding plan that would move her son's school to another building. Nixon was booed by the plan's supporters as she stepped to the microphone. But her argument — that the plan exacerbated racial and socio-economic segregation — ended with applause.
October 8, 2013
Looking to future, education officials imagine next UFT contract
At a panel geared toward current and potential education funders in New York City, city and state officials said they'd like to see some changes that philanthropy can't produce. City Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky and State Education Commissioner John King both said they want to see the city's next mayor use contract negotiations with the teachers union to give educators time to work together. “The next union contract needs more professional development time,” Polakow-Suransky said. “One of the biggest mistakes Randi and Klein made in the last contract was removing professional development time.” He was referring to Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein, who as UFT president and chancellor in 2005 negotiated a contract that traded about two hours a week of teacher training time for more teacher time with struggling students. The city’s contract with the teacher’s union has expired, as have the contracts of all labor unions in the city, and one of the new mayor's first tasks will be to negotiate a new one.
October 2, 2013
Five people who could be the next chancellor of New York City's schools
When the next mayor takes office on January 1, one of his first acts will likely be to choose a schools…
September 16, 2013
Instead of telling teachers apart, new evals lump some together
Across the city this year, thousands of teachers will be rated in large part based on test scores of subjects and students that they do not teach. The scenario represents how the original purpose of the new evaluation system, to differentiate teachers' effectiveness, has been squeezed by restrictive state laws, limited resources, and a tight timeline for implementation.
August 5, 2013
Before lower test scores arrive, a fight over how to interpret them
Union and city officials are sparring in advance of tough test score news that arrives at a pivotal moment for Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy. Scores due out on Wednesday reflect students' performance on the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, which aim to get students solving complex problems and thinking critically. State officials have long warned that the new tests would produce lower scores, which they say will more accurately reflect students' skills, and in April, teachers and students reported that the tests were indeed challenging. After the state sent a letter to principals on Friday confirming that the scores would be "significantly lower" than in the past, the United Federation of Teachers argued — as it has before — that the news will undermine Bloomberg's claims of education progress. Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's criticism “despicable” and “really sad” during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “What they're trying to do is politicize something that shouldn't be politicized at all," he said. Instead, Walcott emphasized that the scores should be seen as a baseline against which to measure future improvement. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said they would not be comparing this year’s test scores to scores from past years. "You can't compare these directly because they're not just slightly different tests, they're dramatically different tests," Polakow-Suransky said. "It's going to be difficult to make close comparisons with old state exams."
July 3, 2013
NYC's evals include scoring fix that districts lacked this year
The State Education Department is hoping to mend holes in its evaluation regulations, and it's using the evaluation plan that Commissioner John King imposed on New York City as its model. The changes are aimed primarily at eliminating the possibility that teachers could receive final ratings that do not reflect their performance. One issue revolves around how scores on three subcomponents of evaluations turn into a single rating. Under the state's scoring rules, there are some scenarios where a teacher could be rated ineffective overall despite scoring "developing" or higher on each subcomponent. A teacher needs a composite score of at least 65 out of 100 points to be rated developing or higher. But when the state set scoring ranges based on student growth measures, there were a small number of scenarios where a teacher could receive as few as six points out of 40 and still get rated developing on those subcomponents. Any point total under 59 that that teacher received on the remaining 60 points would not meet the 65-point threshold and result in an overall "ineffective." “They never took the time to run through all the permutations,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Long Island, who has written about versions of the scoring quirk since the state adopted new teacher evaluation requirements in 2012.
June 21, 2013
UFT protests Regents grading issues; UFT downplays concerns
UFT President Mulgrew and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a principals union, outside Stuyvesant High School this morning. A top Department of Education official said Friday that effects from delays caused by city's new electronic grading system were "overblown" and estimated that only a small percentage of students would participate in graduation ceremonies without knowing their final grades. "Every kid will have their diploma before the end of [the school year], no one's being kept from walking," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said at International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn, shortly before taking stage to speak at the school's graduation ceremony. "I know that it's stressful and I feel bad for the kids that it's stressful," he said, then added, "I do feel like it's a little bit overblown." Polakow-Suransky's comments came following days of complaints from teachers about the grading process of four of the most-taken Regents tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English. The exams are being scored electronically this year through a "distributed scoring system" to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process used in previous years, which involved teachers grading their own students' exams.
June 5, 2013
On SLOs: the teacher evaluations element you don't know about
Even as the city has aggressively prepared principals and teachers for overhauled observations, which the law required, officials have barely mentioned Student Learning Objectives, a goal-setting tool that will count for 20 percent of most teachers' evaluations next year.
May 20, 2013
Extra pay for principals who heard Walcott speech is questioned
City principals who heard Chancellor Dennis Walcott deliver a stemwinding political speech on Saturday will get an extra day of summer vacation to make up for it. This year, for the first time, the Department of Education told principals that they could take a day off during the summer to compensate for attending the citywide principals conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School. "To encourage attendance, any principal who attends the conference will receive one compensation day that can be used between June 27 and August 30," the department's weekly bulletin to principals said for at least the last two weeks. The tradeoff isn't sitting right with some, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whose union frequently battles the department to ensure that teachers are paid for time they spend working outside of the regular school day. Mulgrew cited the prohibition on city workers participating in political activity on the job. "You're using taxpayer dollars to pay New York City workers to come in and listen to you do a political rant," Mulgrew said. "It's at least inappropriate, but it really borders on questionable ethics."
April 29, 2013
City to give longer school day, literacy help to middle schoolers
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a new phase in the Middle School Quality Initiative at the Urban Institute of Mathematics in the Bronx. For thousands of sixth-graders at 20 city middle schools, the school day is about to get a lot longer. The schools will offer an hour of intensive literacy tutoring and 90 additional minutes of community-inspired programming such as yoga and gardening, as part of the city's latest effort to spur improvements in the lowest-performing middle schools. Chancellor Dennis Walcott and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced today that they are adding 40 schools to the city's two-year-old Middle School Quality Initiative. Twenty of those schools will be randomly chosen for the three-year extended day pilot program. Walcott made middle schools his priority when he took office, rebranding an initiative that Quinn had spearheaded as MSQI and expanding it to include focuses on literacy, teacher collaboration, and using data to drive instruction. Since then, MSQI has grown from 18 to 49 schools, and in the fall, it will include 89 schools.
March 18, 2013
At Dewitt Clinton, tackling progress report as informational text
Ann Neary, right, looks over her school's progress report with teachers at a conference on education and social activism. When it came time to teach her ninth graders to write a research paper, Ann Neary, a teacher at Dewitt Clinton High School, decided that rather than write about a topic distant from their lives, students would try to decipher the school’s city-issued progress report. The idea formed in November, when the city announced that Dewitt Clinton was so low-performing it might be closed. The school had just received an F on its November progress report, Neary told teachers at a conference about education and social activism hosted by the Museum of the City of New York over the weekend. The city ultimately opted not to close Dewitt Clinton, though the Panel on Education Policy voted last week to shrink the school and move two new schools into the building. But back in November, when it still looked like the school might close, students got to work. “We were really rallying around this issue in the school,” Neary said. “So I adopted it as a way to teach research.” An assistant principal had just asked all Dewitt Clinton ninth-grade writing teachers to assign a Common Core-aligned research paper, Neary said, and urged them to focus on non-fiction texts that included graphs for students to analyze. “It wasn’t an assignment I thought would be interesting to my students,” she said. “I thought the F would be more meaningful to them.”
November 27, 2012
With old concerns still unresolved, six schools get new grades
Brooklyn's School for International Studies is among the schools under investigation over its 2010-2011 progress report data. Last year, the Department of Education withheld progress reports from seven schools because their data raised red flags. At the time, officials said the irregularities could have been caused by innocuous reporting errors. But they said the suspicious data could also reflect cheating. The department makes important decisions about which schools should be closed, and which principals should receive pay boosts, based on the progress reports. Investigations were launched. And a year later, all but one of the schools have new progress reports, released yesterday, but still don't have their 2010-2011 reports. At a briefing on this year's progress report release, department officials said those investigations are still unresolved, and they're opening up a new one at a Bronx high school accused of fudging its numbers. "The goal of the investigation is to get it right," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said, explaining why the investigators have so far taken more than a year to look into the irregularities. "We're going to take the time we need to get it right."
November 26, 2012
Officials: A's reflect successes, but standards may be too low
It wasn't easy for high schools to keep their graduation rates or progress grades up this year. For the first time, most students were required to pass five Regents exams before graduating, and schools' college readiness rates were factored into their overall progress scores. Still, 72 percent of schools received As and Bs—up from 64.4 percent last year.
November 15, 2012
In a change, city is steering aspiring principals off the fast track
Realizing that its strategies for stocking the city's ever-expanding supply of schools with excellent principals have fallen short, the Department of Education is launching new programs aimed at slowing down the transition from teacher to administrator. The largest of the new initiatives is the Teacher Leadership Program, aimed at developing leadership skills in hundreds of teachers who are still working in the classroom. Other initiatives are meant to prepare leaders to handle the special challenges of running middle schools and to capitalize on the leadership skills of principals who are already in the system. And a foundation that helped the city underwrite a fast-track principal training program is now paying for educators to earn degrees in school administration at local universities. "Most of our principal training work that we've done historically is focused on that last year before you become a principal," Chief Academic Office Shael Polakow-Suransky said. "It's the last step in the process, and what we've come to understand is that there [are] a lot of steps that happen before that in someone's career. ... We want to begin to do that kind of training." The new programs represent a strong shift away from the Bloomberg administration's early approach to cultivating school leadership at a time when the city is losing about 150 principals a year, even as it has ramped up new school creation. Together with existing programs, they are set to produce 134 new principals and engage 300 teachers this year, according to the department.
November 6, 2012
22 schools shut for 7th straight day; no buses for some students
Students in 22 city schools will miss a seventh straight day of class on Wednesday while the Department of Education continues to restore buildings damaged and disrupted by Hurricane Sandy. And thousands of other students will have to make their way to school on their own because the department does not have enough buses to move all of the students who need transportation. After calling local private bus companies and petitioning the state and federal emergency relief organizations, the city has rounded up more than 100 additional buses to join the 7,400 that ran on Monday, officials said this evening. But still, buses will serve students at fewer than half of the 43 schools that are so severely damaged that they must be moved. Those schools, which together enroll about 20,000 students, are opening for the first time on Wednesday. A major problem, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said this evening, is that the department's transportation hub, located in Long Island City, still does not have power. The department can only add new routes, not make the ones it already operates more efficient, while the computer system that programs the city's 7,700 school bus routes is down, he said. "We don’t have access to any of that," he said. "Everything we are doing at this point is by hand."
October 26, 2012
Conversation of the week: Participating in a controversial policy
Some of our most thought-provoking comments this week came in response to a first person account of starting a new school in the GothamSchools Community section. In his post, teacher Stephen Lazar described his inner conflict over helping to start Harvest Collegiate High School this year. He believed in the new school, he wrote, but he knew that it would occupy space vacated by a school that was being closed. That school is Legacy High School, a struggling small school that will share its building space with Harvest in Union Square until it finished phasing out. Lazar chose to join Harvest's founding team, but still, he said, the question stymied him: Should a teacher help create a new school if he objects to the policy that led to its creation? Commenters were divided in their answers. "Former Turnaround Teacher" said that Lazar's discomfort about his participation in the city's reform effort is a common among educators at new schools and phase-out schools: When I was looking to transfer at the end of the past school year I often faced a similar decision. I could not bring myself to apply to certain schools that I know where in current phase out buildings. However I did apply to some schools in buildings that had finished phasing out. When it comes down to it, in the current system unless you are lucky enough to get into the 20% or so of High Schools that are either specilized or the DOE for whatever...
October 25, 2012
Tensions flare as officials defend their school support systems
Councilman Jackson waives at Shael Polakow-Suransky (far right) during a hearing on the networks. Facing criticism that the Department of Education does not hold the organizations responsible for supporting schools accountable for their success, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told members of the City Council today that the opposite is true. In fact, he said during a heated hearing about the department's network support structure, he has changed the leadership of 15 of the department's 55 networks. "Fifteen of those [former network leaders] are people that I did not have confidence in and we wanted someone to do better," Polakow-Suranksy told the city council members during a lengthy hearing. "There is very clear accountability." That revelation was one of many data points he and other top officials shared this afternoon at a City Council Education Committee hearing on the school networks and their nebulous roles supervising each of the city's 1,700 schools. The networks fit into a complicated and at times unintuitive picture of the school system's structural make-up. They were created in 2007, several years after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and his former schools chancellor, Joel Klein, dissolved the 32 Community School Districts that once supervised the city's schools and made academic and operational decisions.
October 24, 2012
With survey, UFT aims to quantify its Common Core complaints
The sharp complaints that UFT President Michael Mulgrew leveled a week ago at the city and state's Common Core rollout were based on anecdotal reports, according to union officials. Now the union is hoping to back up Mulgrew's harsh words with the voices of more than 100,000 educators. Today, every UFT member received a survey by email asking them whether they have received the curriculum materials, professional development, and technology they need to tie their instruction to the new standards. A message from Mulgrew that accompanied the survey signaled that the union is looking for problems. "With this online UFT survey, we are gathering vital evidence of the DOE's lack of instructional support as we demand that the DOE provide you with the tools that you need to teach to the new standards," he wrote. "We will use this evidence to do our own evaluation of the DOE's support of our work." The state is in the process of developing curriculum materials aligned to the Common Core, a move that few, if any, of the other 45 states that have adopted the new standards are making. In the city, the Department of Education has built some curriculum materials and recruited hundreds of educators to build more in an effort to give teachers a helping hand during the transition.
October 19, 2012
Comments of the week: probing city's teacher certification idea
When Department of Education officials announced their interest in creating a teacher certification program earlier this week, the city's teachers union and many of our commenters responded with concern and alarm. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he “strongly opposes” any effort to give the city authority over teacher certification, a process currently reserved almost exclusively for education colleges. City officials said it could help alleviate the shortage of teachers in some subject areas, but Mulgrew contended that the department's policies are to blame for the system's shortages. He called the department's professional development record "abysmal" and argued that it is encouraging teachers to flee the profession. Many of our commenters agreed. "Lisa" was among the commenters to question how well the city could train the uncertified teachers who would enroll in its program (and eventually work in the schools): Wow, "fast tracking" a fresh out of college special education teacher who will not even need a masters degree by placing him or her alongside a veteran teacher in a "thriving" school and then dumping them into a hard to staff school. I bet there are a ton of parents of special ed kids who can't wait to have that kind of teacher.
October 18, 2012
Union: City is the reason, not the solution, for teacher shortages
The Department of Education hasn't officially submitted a proposal to train and certify its own teachers, but already the plan has encountered stiff resistance. Just two days after a top department official floated the idea during testimony at Governor Cuomo's education reform commission, New York City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said he "strongly opposes" any effort to give the city authority over teacher certification, a process currently reserved almost exclusively for education colleges. State and city officials contend that handing off certification duties to the education department would help chip away at the long-standing problem of teacher shortage some subjects. But citing teacher attrition data from the 2006-2007 school year, Mulgrew wrote in a letter to commission Chair Richard Parsons today that if anyone is to blame for the teacher shortages in the school system, it is the education department. Of the 6940 teachers hired that year, 38.9 percent have left the system, according to data provided by the UFT. That rate increased to 50 percent for teachers of Science, English and English as a Second Language. "The specific problems of staffing these shortage areas are not a function of poor teacher training in existing institutions, but rather the DOE’s abysmal record of supporting, developing and retaining the teachers it already has," Mulgrew wrote.
October 16, 2012
City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT president Michael Mulgrew talk at the education commission. The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today. Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said. "We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge," he told the commission, according to his written statement. The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers' evaluations on top of many other criteria. "As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them," Polakow-Suransky said. "None of this is funded." Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.
October 11, 2012
Comparison of new and old state tests hint at challenge to come
This math problem is of the type that students in third grade should expect to see on this year's Common Core-aligned state tests, according to state education officials. Educators have gotten a few hints into what new, more challenging state exams could look like this spring. To help them prepare more, city officials are encouraging them to review old exams and new sample questions side by side to see exactly what has changed. While teachers waited for the state to release examples of how they are re-imagining the yearly exams to line up with new, Common Core curriculum standards, city officials offered their own comparison guide. The guide took the form of a slideshow, with examples of Common Core-aligned math and English tasks developed by city officials, and an explanation of how they compared to old lessons. And when the state's only batch of sample test questions came out in late June, city officials prepared another comparison, but with official questions and 2010 exam questions. They presented the comparison to principals in June at an annual conference for school leaders, and then gave it to reporters earlier this month. The comparisons, officials said, show that students can expect to read more challenging texts and see more multi-step math problems and word problems that reflect real-world scenarios. They include a set of algebra problems for third- and sixth-graders from 2010, followed by comprable problems from a 2013 sample test. One new question, for example, asks sixth-graders to consider a clothing store offering a 30 percent discount on its wares. In three parts, students must not only find the reduced price of several items, but also figure out what an item would cost with an additional discount, or without a discount at all. The comparison question from 2010 is a word problem with just one step, asking students to divide two numbers.
September 5, 2012
School leaders enumerate challenges on the eve of the new year
Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the School of the Future to hear from department chairs about citywide education policy reforms. Most classrooms were set up and schedules finalized at M.S. 223 in the Bronx this morning, 24 hours before students would arrive for the first day of school. But teachers still needed to meet to review the lesson plans they are aligning to the state's new curriculum standards, the Common Core. As they finished their breakfast and got to work, they were joined by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and his top deputy, Shael Polakow-Suransky, on the first of their two school visits today. Walcott gave the teachers a quick pep talk before sitting in on their training sessions. But he cautioned that the school's past successes — which include a strong arts program, summer classes, and a New York Times Magazine profile — were not enough. "I think this is a tremendous school. You've had major accomplishments," Walcott said. "We need to make sure we model what you're doing and also improve on that performance as well." Like all city schools, M.S. 223 is contending with the new standards, looming changes to state tests, and citywide special education reforms aimed at better integrating students with disabilities. Today, the teachers focused on a small piece of the sweeping changes: developing performance tasks, or assessments that reflect the Common Core's emphasis on real-world applications of classroom learning.
August 22, 2012
Test monitoring offers look into city's efforts to preempt cheating
A test security practice that city officials devised to deter cheating before it happens is also being used to preempt schools already suspected of misconduct. Each spring, as part of its test monitoring program, the Department of Education disperses a small team to schools on testing days to scrutinize and enforce security guidelines. Some schools are picked randomly, but others were flagged by the department because allegations were lodged by school staff and test score data showed "anomalous" results in recent years, officials said. During this year's six-day elementary and middle school testing period in April, education department employees paid 41 visits to 37 schools, according to records obtained by GothamSchools in a Freedom of Information Law request. The city would not specify which schools were the subject of a targeted monitoring visit, as opposed to a random one. But an analysis of test score data for the schools that had monitors visit showed that many had large increases in 2011, a year when the citywide pass rate barely budged. When monitors visited the schools for the 2012 tests, some of them saw sharp drops on its scores — even while the citywide average increased. Not all monitored schools saw declines this year and, in fact, some saw large gains. But of the schools that made significant gains on either English or math in 2011, more than half regressed to some degree in 2012. One school's math proficiency rate dropped by more than 40 percentage points. The previously undisclosed details about the monitoring program comes at a time when state and federal education officials are increasingly focused on devising policies to improve the integrity of tests in the wake of cheating scandals that have erupted in other cities. The number of schools listed in the monitoring program also provides a limited glimpse into the scope of cheating allegations that the city education department receives and is able to deal with.
July 17, 2012
Bloomberg credits boosts in test results to new school initiatives
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results. This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data. The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile. Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working. Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points. "There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
June 26, 2012
Panel: Path to college-readiness paved with hard-to-fund plans
Making sure students have the academic skills and knowledge to hack it in college is necessary but not sufficient to ensuring that they succeed there, said David Conley, a researcher who students college readiness. They also need “soft skills” such as persistence and “transition knowledge” about how to navigate the admissions process, he said.
June 12, 2012
At annual principals conference, talk is of difficult change ahead
Volunteers prepare for more than a thousand city principals to check in at the conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Tech. A year ago, Department of Education officials gathered more than a thousand city principals in a hot auditorium for a speech by Common Core architect David Coleman. The energy in the room was "truly off the charts" according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and it set the tone for this school year. This year's principals' leadership conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School, took a lower-key tone, focusing not on big ideas but on the nitty-gritty of implementing existing ones. A series of workshops delved into the Common Core learning standards, evolving state tests, looming special education reforms, and observing teachers — all issues that have dominated the city's policy agenda for more than a year. Instead of Coleman, whose standards are new for New York, the principals heard from Robert Evans, a clinical and organizational psychologist, and received copies of his book, "The Human Side of Change." Evans urged principals to give the Common Core a positive spin while rolling it out in their schools. That's exactly what Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky urged when he instructed principals to continue to communicate the importance of the Common Core, especially as the state transitions to assessments based on the standards. "As principal, one of your biggest challenges is to create a sense of urgency around this work without creating a sense of panic or anxiety," he said during a portion of the day that was open to reporters.
June 1, 2012
In promotion ban rollback, some students to get another chance
Students who have been held back repeatedly will get a renewed shot at moving to the next grade under new regulations that the Department of Education has proposed. When Mayor Bloomberg won control over the city schools in 2002, his first major initiative was to crack down on "social promotion," or allowing students to move to the next grade regardless of whether they passed the year's state tests. The ban first took effect in third grade in 2004 — enabled by Bloomberg's purge of critics from the city school board — and extended to all tested grades in 2009. The proposed regulations, announced today, would roll back that policy for a small and particularly challenging segment of the student population: those who are overage for their grade and have been held back multiple times. Of the roughly 9,200 students who were held back last year, 1,200 fit into that category, according to the Department of Education. Under the current promotion policy, principals aren't allowed to advance students who failed state tests under any circumstance. The new regulations would ease that rule, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky wrote in a letter to principals this week.
May 25, 2012
Bushwick Community's High School's fight against closure
http://youtu.be/gS-mTBARu1g The battle to save Bushwick Community High School from closure began even before Mayor Bloomberg first announced plans to "turnaround" nearly three dozen schools in January.
May 22, 2012
For math teachers, conversion to new standards may be tough
This year, Jackie Xuereb is teaching her sixth grade math students how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. But next year, new standards will call for students to know that information before they enter her class. Xuereb, a sixth grade math teacher at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, is among the city math teachers preparing to swap the state's learning standards for the Common Core this fall. And like many, she is struggling to keep the two sets of standards straight as the new standards move some topics an entire grade-level earlier than in the past. "A lot of what used to be sixth grade standards are now taught in fifth grade," Xuereb said. "I feel that I'm going to have to be really mindful and cognizant of this in my planning for next year. The kids are going to have these huge gaps." New York City piloted the Common Core standards in 100 schools last year and asked all teachers to practice working with them this year. Next year, every teacher in every elementary and middle school will be expected to teach to the new standards, and state tests will be based on them. Department of Education officials have argued that a full-steam-ahead approach is required because moving slowly would deprive students of the Common Core's long-overdue rigor. But some say that this approach will pose a special challenge for math teachers, particularly in the middle school years, as students begin learning advanced concepts that build on each other sequentially. William Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University who has researched the effect of the Common Core on learning, said students who miss a lesson the first time around are at risk of missing the concept entirely. "If it's done really carefully it might work, but that would be my worry, that this would require fairly careful thought about how to do that across the grades so that what's happening in one grade will line up with the next," he said. "If they're not ramping this up from first grade on in a logical fashion ... then the transition to more advanced math will be horrendous, too."
May 18, 2012
"Turnaround" hiring to resume, but decisions could be reversed
State Education Commissioner John King observes an English and Language Arts class at the Dual Language Middle School. Hiring is set to resume at the 24 "turnaround" schools under an agreement city and union officials reached late Friday afternoon. But the hiring decisions could be reversed if an arbitrator ultimately decides that the unions' complaint — that the city is attempting to circumvent contractual hiring and firing policies at the schools — is valid. The city teachers and principals unions sued to stop the hiring process, but on Wednesday, a State Supreme Court judge urged both sides to accept arbitration rather than pursue litigation. Today, the city and unions agreed "in principle" to seek arbitration, selected an arbitrator, and selected a first meeting date — June 5. In the meantime, the city will continue the process of rehiring or replacing teachers at the schools — but will have to run the risk of having those decisions undone if the arbitrator rules in the unions' favor. The outcome of the contractual dispute could affect the state's ability to approve those 24 schools for a pot of federal funds, Commissioner John King told reporters today.
May 10, 2012
Polakow-Suransky tries out the teaching he's been pushing for
AP English students at Bronx Academy of Letters debate different types of affirmative action as top Department of Education official Shael Polakow-Suransky looks on. When the 18 seniors in Amy Matthusen's Advanced Placement English class entered Room 104 at Bronx Academy of Letters on Wednesday, they were surprised to see an unfamiliar figure at the front of the classroom. Instead of their teacher, they found Shael Polakow-Suransky, the Department of Education's second in command, who signed up to guest-teach in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. Polakow-Suransky is leading the department's efforts to make instruction more challenging but hadn't taught a class of students since working as a principal in 2004. "When I thought about a good way to express my appreciation, I thought doing some teaching and getting a feel for what our teachers are working on day to day would be a powerful way to do that," he said. Matthusen's students had analyzed three essays about affirmative action, each arguing that a different kind of student should get an edge in university admissions. One argued for race-based affirmative action; another pushed for poor students to get a boost; and the third said admissions preferences could bring more male students to college campuses, where they are under-represented. Polakow-Suransky didn’t want to pull the class away from its trajectory. So after speaking with Matthusen twice, he prepared an activity that used all of the same materials. His twist: Students would argue the positions contained in the essays before a "Board of Regents," a group of students responsible for setting admissions policies for a hypothetical university.
April 20, 2012
Exit strategy for a closing school's principal: Relocate upstairs
Supporters of Washington Irving High School protested its planned closure in December. Two new schools are coming to the Washington Irving High School campus this fall, but Mayor Bloomberg mentioned only one when he visited the building this week to tout 54 new small schools opening in September. The principals-to-be of the venture capitalist-backed Academy of Software Engineering and dozens more new schools stood by Bloomberg’s side as he touted the city's success at replacing large, dysfunctional high schools with smaller schools. The other new school, Union Square High School for Health Sciences, will share more than a street address with Washington Irving, which the city is closing due to poor performance. Its focus is a spinoff of one of Irving's programs, and its proposed leader, Bernardo Ascona, has been Irving’s principal since 2008. Ascona says he applied to lead the new school shortly after the city announced that it was considering closing Washington Irving. Now, some students and teachers say they feel slighted that he sought a way out even as they rallied to keep the school open. They also question why, for the second time in four years, the city has offered a plum new job — the same salary for fewer students and a clean slate — to an Irving principal. "It's unfair, particularly when the management hierarchy always seems to land on their feet," said Gregg Lundahl, Irving's union chapter leader. "The staff at Washington Irving work very, very hard. [Ascona] was only expecting us to do what he had been told to tell us to do, and as we can see it didn't work out so well." "He failed to make this school successful," said Anna Durante, a junior. "Once you have a game over, you don't get an extra token to restart."
April 19, 2012
Top DOE official endorses a "turnaround" transfer high school
http://youtu.be/uAM5MyHmko8 At most of the public hearings about the city’s plans to “turn around” dozens of struggling schools, Department of Education representatives have insisted that closing and reopening the schools with new principals and teachers would be in students’ best interest. That was not the case at Bushwick Community High School Wednesday night. After hearing dozens of students deliver emotional speeches in defense of the transfer high school, the department’s second-in-command offered a testimonial of his own. “This is a school that looks at the whole child. This is a school that gives students second chances. It’s a place of redemption. It’s a family. It saves lives,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer. “I was moved by what you said tonight,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of public hearings and I think it’s a tribute to the educators in this community that students here speak with such passion, with such eloquence, and so thoughtfully about what works.”
April 18, 2012
Pep-rally tone but many worries at Queens turnaround hearings
Students dressed in blue and white, Long Island City High School's colors, chant at the school's closure hearing Tuesday. The feeling at two Queens high schools Tuesday evening was as much pep rally as protest during public hearings about the city's plans to close the schools in June. The city wants to close and reopen the schools, Long Island City High School and Newtown High School, under the federally prescribed reform process known as "turnaround." The process would require many teachers to be replaced, a prospect that students said has induced anxiety about what classes and clubs would be offered next year. Students and teachers said unique elective and extracurricular options that currently exist — including boys gymnastics, robotics, and guitar — are a large part of what makes the schools special. They urged the Department of Education to preserve those features and revert to other improvement plans that would cause less disruption. At a third school whose turnaround hearing took place last night, John Dewey High School, students and teachers have been mounting a vigorous defense since January, when the turnaround plans were announced. The three schools are among 26 whose turnaround proposals are likely to be approved when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on them next week. Newtown High School The crowd at Newtown gave forth whoops and cheers for every teacher who spoke, for every mention of the school’s winning robotics team, and for every nod to longstanding principal – and Newtown alum – John Ficalora. But before there was cheer, there was tension when a top Department of Education official, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, had not shown up 20 minutes after the meeting was supposed to begin. At 6:20 p.m., with Weiner an estimated 20 minutes away, Jesse Mojica, the Department of Education’s executive director for Family and Community Engagement, tried to start the meeting without him.
April 5, 2012
State tests already in city schools with weeks before test date
Schools conducting test prep this week — and, in some cases, next week during break — have been doing so with a potential cheat sheet nearby. English language arts exams begin the Tuesday after spring break for students in grades 3-8. But schools have had the tests since as early as Friday — an arrangement intended to give test coordinators enough time to make sure the right number of booklets and answer sheets are on hand for the three-day testing period that begins April 17. The state distributes exams to local districts weeks before the testing dates, and districts decide when to pass the tests out to schools. Like many districts across the state, the city Department of Education has long distributed tests to schools by about a week before the test dates. But this year, because the exams begin right after the city schools' spring break — a schedule that caused hiccups when the state rolled it out this year to facilitate new teacher evaluations — the department decided to deliver the tests even earlier. Schools received the tests more than two weeks before they are due to begin. The adjustment raises questions about how the department can ensure that all tests remain secure while they are in schools. The department has strict guidelines about who can handle test materials, for how long, and in what ways. Last week, principals received an extra reminder about test security this year. "Please take all necessary steps to ensure that these exams are safeguarded during spring break," read an item in this week's Principal's Weekly email newsletter. But some principals are concerned that not enough is being done to make sure all schools closely adhere to the guidelines, particularly as some keep their doors open through the break to allow for additional test preparation.
March 20, 2012
City's accountability czar fields criticism at forum about testing
About 200 people attended a forum in Brooklyn Monday night about high-stakes testing. The architect of many of the metrics the city uses to assess teachers and measure student growth spent Monday evening defending his work against a steady stream of criticism from parents and educators. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky sat on a three-person panel titled "High-Stakes Testing 101" hosted at The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies and The Brooklyn New School. The panel included two principals, Long Island's Sean Feeney and Elijah Hawkes formerly of the James Baldwin School in Manhattan, who have publicly criticized the city's and state's use of testing data to measure student growth and evaluate teacher effectiveness. Hawkes was one of about 170 city principals to sign on to a petition Feeney authored against the state's use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. That system, in which student growth on standardized test scores count for at least 20 percent of teacher ratings, was officially signed into law last week in Albany. Polakow-Suransky said the parents and principals were right to have qualms about the new system. He said the tests currently in use are imperfect and acknowledged, as the principals' protest points out, the evaluation system allows for scenarios in which a teacher can have the full confidence of her principal yet still be rated ineffective if her students show zero growth. "I agree with you that principals should not ever be in this situation where ultimately their judgment gets trumped by a mechanistic formula," Polakow-Suransky said after Feeney raised the issue. "I think that's an important thing that we need to look at as we work to implement this." But for the most part, the department's second in command defended the city's accountability system against concerns that test scores are being used inappropriately and that longer tests are negatively affecting schools' curriculum and culture.
March 20, 2012
As officials stress urgency, teachers raise standards concerns
Deputy chancellor of the New York City schools Shael Polakow-Suransky (left) and State Education Commissioner John King discussed the Common Core at a teaching forum. As three of the region's education policy heavyweights said last week that they were rolling out new curriculum standards with "incredible urgency," educators asked them to slow things down. The conversation took place Friday at WNET's annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference, where State Education Commissioner John King, New Jersey schools chief Christopher Cerf, and city Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky spoke on a panel discussion about new Common Core curriculum standards. GothamSchools editor Elizabeth Green moderated the panel. Both New York and New Jersey are in the process of rolling out the new standards, which emphasize analytical skills, non-fiction literature, and mathematical word-problems. Every city school devoted a training day before the school year started to the standards, and all teachers are supposed to teach one unit this spring aligned to them. But educators who attended the panel — some of whom cut out of school early to be there — said the Core's introduction this year had become a point of anxiety as teachers are juggling multiple sets of expectations. They said the new standards were increasing pressure on them to revise their teaching methods at a time when they are already gearing up for performance evaluations tied to their students' test scores for the first time. Noah Heller, a high school math teacher, said he struggled to decide how to adjust to the new standards when the state is years from tying high school Regents exam scores to the Common Core.
February 24, 2012
City releases Teacher Data Reports — and a slew of caveats
When the Department of Education's embargo of Teacher Data Reports details lifted at noon today, news organizations across the city rushed to make the data available. The Teacher Data Reports are “value-added” assessments of teachers’ effectiveness that were produced from 2008 to 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8. This morning, department officials including Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky met with reporters to offer caution about how the data reports should be used. They emphasized the reports' wide margins of error — 35 percentage points for math teachers and 53 percentage points for reading teachers, on average — and that the reports reflect only a small portion of teachers' work. "We would never advise anyone — parent, reporter, principal, teacher — to draw a conclusion based on this score alone," Polakow-Suransky said. Most of the news organizations that filed Freedom of Information Law requests for the ratings plan to publish them in searchable or streamlined databases, with the teachers' names attached. GothamSchools does not plan to publish the data with teachers' names or identifying characteristics included because of concerns about the data's reliability. At least two other news organizations that cover education are also not publishing the data: the local affiliate of Fox News, according to a representative of Fox, and the nonprofit school information website Insideschools. Department officials are asking schools not to release the reports to parents. They issued a guide today advising principals about how to handle parents who demand that their child be removed from the class of a teacher rated ineffective.
February 23, 2012
City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit
The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
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